Young curlers come from Cambridge Bay for bonspiel

Young voices could be heard yelling, “Hurry!” and “Sweep!” last weekend at the Ponoka Curling Rink.

Skye Corey and Rachel Chenier

Skye Corey and Rachel Chenier

Young voices could be heard yelling, “Hurry!” and “Sweep!” last weekend at the Ponoka Curling Rink.

The junior bonspiel brought young teams from central Alberta with one surprise addition; a girls’ team flew down from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut to compete. Coach Patti Bligh said the trip was made after the girls realized they had to sacrifice winter games tryouts for school.

The trip to compete in the tryouts would have taken the team a few days to get to Iqaluit where the tryouts were being held.

“To get across our territory it takes two (days),” said Bligh, whose mother lives in Ponoka.

It took the northern team one day to fly to Alberta where they could enjoy their first bonspiel of the season. The Cambridge Bay team curls on natural ice and a mild winter season has made creating the curling rink difficult.

“We’re probably the most northerly club that we know of,” added Bligh.

The girls were excited to finally have a chance to curl but there was a bit of a learning curve. Natural ice has a curl to it and the girls are used to a slower ice surface with frost usually encroaching the edges, which changes how they play.

“They’re figuring out that it goes so straight,” said Bligh.

Mia Otokiak, third, said she enjoyed the experience but is used to playing in minus 30 degrees C. “I’m just so used to the cold.”

One of her challenges was adjusting the strength of her throw. In Cambridge Bay, a guard shot is similar to a take-out shot on artificial ice, explained Otokiak. She had to ease on her power to make the rocks land close to the rings.

For skip Siobhan Bligh, the curl of the ice also affected their play. The curl with natural ice is greater and she found all her teammates were going wide because of it. “There’s a lot more of a swing (to natural ice).”

Despite these challenges the team enjoyed learning the best practices on the artificial ice surface. Coach Bligh said they enjoyed the chance to compete in Ponoka and get back into the swing of things.

For Ponoka’s Bantam team, coach Bill Crawford said he was focusing on proper technique for his team. “I teach them how to slide and how to turn the rocks.”

While strategy is a key part of the game, Crawford wants his players to have strong techniques, which will help them as they get older.

“It’s more about playing the game than whether you win or lose,” added Crawford.

Playdowns start Feb. 14 in Red Deer for the junior teams and provincials are scheduled for Feb. 28 in Ponoka.

There were eight juvenile, five bantam and four novice teams that entered in the bonspiel.